FUN. at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 1/23/13

FUN. at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 1/23/13
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Minneapolis
Wednesday, January 23, 2013

FUN. mastermind Nate Ruess has always seemed destined to play in front of crowds like Wednesday night's 5500-person gathering at St. Paul's Roy Wilkins Auditorium. Back when he fronted a more exploratory pop outfit with the Format in the early aughts, his songwriting was perpetually whimsical and his compositional skills typically extravagant. During his first banter with last night's ass-to-elbows crowd, an ecstatic Ruess said, "Every time we come to Minnesota, we've gotta play the biggest place we've played in our lives." While most dates on their tour will play out in theaters, FUN.'s boyish leader had no problem laying the ample floor space to waste during their roadshow kickoff.

Part of Ruess's appeal has always been a willingness to indulge in hokier instrumentation and some self-effacement-both tropes that he's noticeably toned down in the wake of stardom. Still, his springy steps always seemed to reveal an artist much younger at heart than he is now. "All the Pretty Girls" from their lesser appreciated debut, Aim & Ignite, showed Ruess willing to force his vocal range to nasally, cabaret highs. Paired with some nerdy foot shuffling, he looked more like Duckie from Pretty in Pink than a top-40 heartthrob. Regardless, it's hard to look terribly uncool in front of the audacious light show they brought with them.

FUN. at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 1/23/13
FUN. at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 1/23/13
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

Much like on record, the group's cheekiness is perpetually hit or miss. "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)" softened to a playful bridge where the loungy piano part conversed with both Ruess and guitarist Jack Antonoff -- once of Steel Train fame. It's a rare hint at craftsmanship past their constantly relied-upon 4/4 structure. Still, other moments like the braking turntable loop of "All Alone" never built to anything past fashionable servitude. Apparently the group couldn't stir that track's much-needed funkspiration during their five prior days of practice out at Paisley Park, a juicy pre-tour tidbit Ruess divulged at a rare time where the Twin Cities are bleeding a deeper shade of purple.

FUN. at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 1/23/13
FUN. at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 1/23/13
FUN. at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 1/23/13
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

All the hits came in an understandably staggered fashion during the set's back half. A bombastic lead-in left the breakout "We Are Young" sounding bizarrely cavernous. The echoey gymnasium space of Roy Wilkins didn't favor the more barren track. "Carry On," the recession era's version of "Forever Young," was doled out in a much more uplifting fashion in spite of its drearier subject matter. And the intoxicatingly optimistic "Some Nights" launched the standard two-song encore. At this point, Ruess had begun rallying for a louder crowd-one that seemed limited by age to a gentle alto chorus. But the support still felt palpable. Based on Ruess' rarely-discussed history for capable pop constructions, he seems destined to return on a larger stage. In a year or so, the crowd will likely be louder too.

Critic's Bias: The Format definitely had a place in my high-school-sophomore heart. I think Ruess regressed in subject matter and stylistic ambition when he launched Fun., but I was nonetheless impressed with their show. 

Random Notebook Dump: "How the hell have they been here five days if they played at the Inaugural Ball on Monday?"

Overheard in the Crowd: After a new song entitled, "What the Fuck"...
"That one won't be able to be a single."
"Cee Lo did it."
"So will it be called 'What the Forget?'"

Out on the Town
One Foot
All the Pretty Girls
Why Am I the One
At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)
All Alone
It Get's Better
Carry On
The Gambler
What the Fuck
We Are Young
All Alright

Some Nights

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